General Focus of Freetown

How is it like to be talented, have dreams and be young in Sierra Leone and what kinds of support exist to get you to the next level. Kelvin Doe's story is a good case study.

Kelvin Doe, sometimes known as General Focus, in a video still.

This summer I received an email from my friend Anusha about a young inventor in Freetown. The story really made me laugh because while being quite unique, it also really summed up a lot about the nature of social navigation for all types of young people in Sierra Leone (I did not change the punctuation in the message):

there is a 12 year old kid called General Focus, he has this amazing talent of making things on his own, generators and what not. He has a pirate radio station that broadcasts music a couple of times per week and he ‘”employs” his friends as the dj’s. He used to call himself DJ Focus, but has now upgraded to General Focus, because he manages things and makes sure they don’t play bad music — and that’s a quote. He pays the dj’s 5000 leons per month…

In September, with the help of Innovate Salone and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), General Focus made his way to the U.S. to attend the Maker Faire in NY, and take up a brief residency as the M.I.T. International Development Program’s youngest ever visiting practitioner.

This past weekend, news about Kelvin spread perhaps faster than news about the country’s elections, via a short documentary film posted to YouTube on Friday.

The profile has gotten close to 300,000 views in a few days, showing that the world seems moved by this young genius and the really inspirational work of “big brother” David Sengeh. But, if you really want to get  an understanding of how exciting such young innovators are for Sierra Leoneans, watch the man interviewing Kelvin in this clip. He can barely contain his excitement at the prospect of a radio station at Bo School.

Further Reading

A power crisis

Andre De Ruyter, the former CEO of Eskom, has presented himself as a simple hero trying to save South Africa’s struggling power utility against corrupt forces. But this racially charged narrative is ultimately self-serving.

Cinematic universality

Fatou Cissé’s directorial debut meditates on the uncertain fate and importance of Malian cinema amidst the growing dismissiveness towards the humanities across the world.

The meanings of Heath Streak

Zimbabwean cricketing legend Heath Streak’s career mirrors many of the unresolved tensions of race and class in Zimbabwe. Yet few white Zimbabwean sporting figures are able to stir interest and conversation across the nation’s many divides.


After winning Italy’s Serie A with Napoli, Victor Osimhen has cemented his claim to being Africa’s biggest footballing icon. But is the trend of individual stardom good for sports and politics?

The magic man

Chris Blackwell’s long-awaited autobiography shows him as a romantic rogue; a risk taker whose life compass has been an open mind and gift to hear and see slightly into the future.

How to think about colonialism

Contemporary approaches to the legacy of colonialism tend to narrowly emphasize political agency as the solution to Africa’s problems. But agency is configured through historically particular relations of which we are not sole authors.

More than just a flag

South Africa’s apartheid flag has been declared hate speech by a top court. But while courts are important and their judgments matter, racism is a long and internationally entrenched social phenomenon that cannot be undone via judicial processes.